Climate change threatening polar bears in Canada

15.11.2013 14:19

Polar bears currently outnumber the
residents of a small town in Canada’s
tundra, but that may change soon.
Climate change has sped up the ice
melting season in Churchill, Manitoba,
a town of about 800 residents — and
900 polar bears.
Experts say the perennial thaw now
begins in mid-June, a full 30 days
earlier than three decades ago, which
means the polar bears spend more
time on land. It also means the bears
are eating less and birthing smaller
cubs that are not as likely to survive.
Scientists like Dr. Steve Amstrup of the
conservation group Polar Bears
International rank polar bears' weight
on a 1-5 scale where one is starving
and five is obese.
Amstrup says most of the bears he's
seen this year are between 2 and 3,
which he says indicates a bear that
hasn’t eaten in a few months.
Polar bears rely on their fat reserves
for parts of the year when they are not
on the ice eating seals.
Polar bear populations can run as high
as 25,000 in parts of the Arctic, but
Amstrup said greenhouse gases created
by humans threaten future generations
of bears by threatening their ice. He
said he likes to compare climate
change’s effect on polar bears to the
infamous Titanic ocean liner.
“[It] didn’t matter how many people
were on the Titanic or how well they
were doing,” he said. “When the Titanic
slipped beneath the waves and they
lost their habitat, that was it. So polar
bears will also go away because of
their dependence on sea ice.”
People ‘care about polar bears’
John Gunter, CEO of Frontiers North
Adventures, explains he brings guests
to the "perceived front line of climate
Churchill attracts the animals because
it sits right on the coastline of Hudson
Bay and polar bears follow the coast in
search of ice floes.
So, less ice means more polar bears on
land — and more possibilities to clash
with local residents. Just this year,
there were two bear attacks locally
that injured three people.
Bob Windsor, a natural resource
officer at Manitoba Conservation, sees
about 30 to 40 polar bears a week
come through Churchill. For the most
part, the bears stay away from the
residents, but some have not learned
to be wary of humans.
When the bears do come, they come at
night, said Windsor. Most of the time
he is able to chase them away using an
air horn and his truck, but sometimes
the bears are in areas that are not
accessible by car.
He recently had an incident with an
abnormally aggressive bear who was
unfazed by Windsor’s attempt to chase
it away with his car. At one point, this
“one-of-a-kind bear” jumped on the
hood of his truck.
Greenhouse emissions threaten polar
Steven Amstrup, Chief Scientist Polar
Bears International and winner of the
2012 Indianapolis Prize, and Tom
Smith, Scientific Advisor, Polar Bears
International, spoke with NBC's Anne
Thompson about the environmental
threat to polar bears.
“I kind of thought he was coming
through the windshield but fortunately
it didn’t happen,” he said.
Windsor said the best thing to do if a
person encounters a bear is to slowly
back away.
“Look big, be loud,” he said. Anything
that will distract the bear – a noise,
throwing a shoe – can buy time and
allow a person to escape.
Both Polar Bears International and have live polar bear
cameras to show people what the
bears are up to.